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Errors Are Seen in Early Attacks on Iraqi Leaders

By DOUGLAS JEHL and ERIC SCHMITT

WASHINGTON, June 12 -- "New York Times"
-- The United States launched many more failed airstrikes on a far broader array of senior Iraqi leaders during the early days of the war last year than has previously been acknowledged, and some caused significant civilian casualties, according to senior military and intelligence officials.

Only a few of the 50 airstrikes have been described in public. All were unsuccessful, and many, including the two well-known raids on Saddam Hussein and his sons, appear to have been undercut by poor intelligence, current and former government officials said.

The strikes, carried out against so-called high-value targets during a one-month period that began on March 19, 2003, used precision-guided munitions against at least 13 Iraqi leaders, including Gen. Izzat Ibrahim, Iraq's No. 2 official, the officials said. 

General Ibrahim is still at large, along with at least one other top official who was a target of the failed raids. That official, Maj. Gen. Rafi Abd al-Latif Tilfah, the former head of the Directorate of General Security, and General Ibrahim are playing a leadership role in the anti-American insurgency, according to a briefing document prepared last month by the Defense Intelligence Agency. 

The broad scope of the campaign and its failures, along with the civilian casualties, have not been acknowledged by the Bush administration. 

A report in December by Human Rights Watch, based on a review of four strikes, concluded that the singling out of Iraqi leadership had "resulted in dozens of civilian casualties that the United States could have prevented if it had taken additional precautions." 

The poor record in the strikes has raised questions about the intelligence they were based on, including whether that intelligence reflected deception on the part of Iraqis, the officials said. The March 19, 2003, attempt to kill Mr. Hussein and his sons at the Dora Farms compound, south of Baghdad, remains a subject of particular contention.

A Central Intelligence Agency officer reported, based primarily on information provided by satellite telephone from an Iraqi source, that Mr. Hussein was in an underground bunker at the site. That prompted President Bush to accelerate the timetable for the beginning of the war, giving the go-ahead to strikes by precision-guided bombs and cruise missiles, senior intelligence officials said. 

But in an interview last summer, Lt. Gen. T. Michael Moseley, of the Air Force, who directed the air campaign during the invasion, acknowledged that inspections after the war had concluded that no such bunker existed. Various internal reviews by the military and the C.I.A. have still not resolved the question of whether Mr. Hussein was at the location at all, according to senior military and intelligence officials, although the C.I.A. maintains that he was probably at Dora Farms.

One possibility, a senior intelligence official and a senior military officer said, is that Mr. Hussein was above ground in one of the houses that were not destroyed in the raid. 

In the raid, the Air Force primarily used deep-penetrating munitions because of their ability to destroy an underground bunker. The person who was the primary source of the information about the bunker was killed in the raid, according to intelligence officials, but had described it using an Arabic word, manzul, that could have been translated either as place of refuge or as bunker. 

A C.I.A. officer who relayed that report from a base in northern Iraq translated the word as bunker, said a senior intelligence official, who confirmed a detailed report that first appeared in "Plan of Attack," a book by the journalist Bob Woodward.

A Warning Sign

In retrospect, the failures were an early warning sign about the thinness of American intelligence on Iraq and on Mr. Hussein's inner circle. Some of the officials who survived the raids, including General Ibrahim, have become leaders of what the Defense Intelligence Agency now believes has been a planned anti-American insurgency, several intelligence officials said.

"It was all just guesswork on where they were," said a senior military officer. Another official, a senior Army officer who served in Iraq, described early intelligence on the Iraqi leadership as producing "a lot of dry holes." 

A third senior military officer described the quantity of "no kidding, actionable intel" as having been limited, but added, "In a real fight, you go with what you've got." 

Senior military officials said they were not sure whether the Iraqis deliberately deceived the United States, in the information that they provided or that was intercepted. They described the intelligence as problematic at best, but said intelligence agencies were engaged in a hard task.

An unclassified Air Force report issued in April 2003 categorized 50 attacks from March 19 to April 18 as having been time-sensitive strikes on Iraqi leaders. An up-to-date accounting posted on the Web site of the United States Central Command shows that 43 of the top 55 Iraqi leaders on the most-wanted list have now been taken into custody or killed, but that none were taken into custody until April 13, 2003, and that none were killed by airstrikes.

An explicit account of the zero for 50 record in strikes on high-value targets was provided by Marc Garlasco, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official who headed the joint staff's high-value targeting cell during the war. Mr. Garlasco is now a senior military analyst for Human Rights Watch, and he was a primary author of the December report, "Off Target: The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq." 

The broad failure rate was confirmed by several senior military officials, including some who served in Iraq or the region during the war, and by senior intelligence officials. 

Immediately after the March 19 attack and others, including an April 5 strike aimed at Gen. Ali Hasan al-Majid, a top official known as Chemical Ali for his role in the gassing of Kurds in 1988, top American officials expressed confidence that the strikes had been successful. On April 7, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, played a videotape of the strike, and Mr. Rumsfeld declared, "We believe that the reign of terror of Chemical Ali has come to an end."

But General Majid survived that raid and others, and was not captured until August. Mr. Hussein was not captured until Dec. 13, and his sons Uday and Qusay were at large until they were killed on July 22. General Ibrahim, General Tilfah and perhaps others who were singled out have not yet been captured.

An unclassified analysis prepared last month by the Defense Intelligence Agency and obtained by The New York Times describes Mr. Ibrahim as having "assumed Saddam's duties" as the titular head of the insurgency after Mr. Hussein's capture. It lists General Tilfah, a cousin of Mr. Hussein's, as one of the leaders of former government leaders involved in the insurgency.

The Iraqi officials singled out during the war were all from the top-55 "blacklist," which was drafted by the C.I.A. and depicted on playing cards distributed to American troops, military officials said. 

Other leaders singled out in repeated strikes included Gen. Abid Hamid Mahmud, Mr. Hussein's secretary and senior bodyguard, who was taken into custody on June 16, and Mr. Hussein's half brother Barzan Ibrahim Hasan, a presidential adviser, according to current and former military officials.

Rules for the Raids

General Moseley, the top Air Force commander during the war who is now the Air Force vice chief of staff, said in the interview last summer that commanders were required to obtain advance approval from Mr. Rumsfeld if any planned airstrike was likely to result in the deaths of 30 more civilians. More than 50 such raids were proposed, and all were approved, General Moseley said.

But raids considered time-sensitive, which included all of those on the high-value targets, were not subject to that constraint, according to current and former military officials. In part for that reason, the report by Human Rights Watch concluded, "attacks on leadership likely resulted in the largest number of civilian deaths from the air war."

The four case studies examined by the organization included the failed March 19, 2003, strike on Mr. Hussein and his sons at Dora Farms, which it said killed a civilian. According to Human Rights Watch, a failed April 5 strike that singled out General Majid in a residential area of Basra killed 17 civilians; a failed April 8 strike that was aimed at Mr. Hussein's half brother Watban Ibrahim Barzan in Baghdad killed 6 civilians; and the second raid on Mr. Hussein and one or both of his sons, on April 7 in the Mansur district of Baghdad, killed an estimated 18 civilians.

In an e-mail message, Mr. Garlasco described the campaign to attack high-value targets as "abject failure," saying, "We failed to kill the H.V.T.'s and instead killed civilians and engendered hatred and discontent in some of the population." 

Senior military officers said some of the strikes might have failed because the Iraqi leaders were on the move during the war. On occasion, they said, reports from spies or communications intercepts may have given their locations accurately, but the strikes may have come too late.

But according to a senior defense official and two former intelligence officials, there were also indications that some intelligence had been wrong, and might have reflected deliberate disinformation from Iraqis enlisted as spies by the United States or from Iraqis who suspected that American intelligence agencies were listening in on their communications.

According to a former defense official, Iraqi leaders who were singled out included Lt. Gen. Muzahim Sab Hassan, commander of Iraqi Air Defense Forces; Brig. Gen. Barzan Abd Ghafur Sulayman Majid, commander of the Special Republican Guard; Taha Yassin Ramadan, the Iraqi vice president; Brig. Gen. Rukan Razuki Abd al-Ghafar Sulayman, a senior bodyguard to Mr. Hussein; and Watban Ibrahim Barzan and Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan, Mr. Hussein's half brothers.

There were conflicting accounts about whether another Iraqi leader who is still at large, Col. Hani Abd al-Latif al-Tilfah, the director of the special security organization under Qusay Hussein, had been a target in the raids. The colonel, the brother of General Tilfah and another maternal cousin of Mr. Hussein, is listed by the D.I.A. as among the leaders of the insurgency.

Another Iraqi leader from the top 55 list who is still at large and is identified in the D.I.A. report as a leader of the insurgency is Abd al-Baqi Abd al-Karim al Abdallah al-Sadun, chairman of the Baath Party regional command for Diyala. The current and former military officials said they had no indication that he had been a target.

Since April 2003, senior American officials have acknowledged that the intelligence reports that placed Mr. Hussein and at least one of his sons in the Mansur district of Baghdad had been regarded as less than solid at the time of that strike. Even now, a senior intelligence official said the C.I.A. believed that Mr. Hussein was "possibly" at the site in Mansur, which was stuck by four 2,000-pound satellite-guided bombs. 

By contrast, the intelligence reports that preceded the March 19 strike on Dora Farms, which was carried out with four 2,000-pound satellite-guided bombs and more than 30 Tomahawk cruise missiles, were regarded as highly credible, according to senior intelligence officials. At the C.I.A., George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, told other administration officials that he was certain that Mr. Hussein had been killed in the raid, citing a report that had been relayed by satellite phone to the C.I.A. officer in northern Iraq by one Iraqi agent on the scene.

Mr. Hussein, since his capture on Dec. 13, has not directly answered when American interrogators have sought to determine whether he was at either location at the time of the two strikes, according to two senior government officials.

At the Pentagon last October, Brig. Gen. Robert W. Cone of the Army, director of the military's Joint Center for Lessons Learned, acknowledged that the intelligence necessary to carry out attacks like these had not measured up to expectations.

"When you take a large country the size of Iraq, with all those sensors and communications, how do you get the right information to the right person who needs it in a timely manner?" General Cone said.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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